“No story lives unless someone wants to listen.” JK Rowling
I hope I have captured this quote correctly – it stands in large letters near the entrance to the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studios, where I took my children at half term. We were queuing briefly next to it, just long enough for me to mull on this.
Is it really true that a story has no life until someone hears it?
Clearly JK’s own books have unprecedented, extravagant, global life. Her stories live in our house, not just in her books, but also in the films and in the conversations we have about them, and in the games my children play that are inspired by the stories.
But what about the thousands of authors out there, toiling over their stories right this moment – is it true that their stories don’t live yet? They feel real enough as the writer works and dreams and edits and struggles to bring them into the world. Perhaps they are still gestating, developing, preparing for life.
If so, what kind of listening brings a story to life?
With Starlight Grey, and Cara and the Wizard, I read each first draft to my children as a bedtime story. They loved hearing them and were delighted to be my first editors, offering seriously considered feedback, and (thankfully!) enough praise to keep me on track.
Perhaps this was the first spark of life for each of those books?
What about the process of publishing the stories? Does that incredibly creative collaboration count as life, of a kind?
For Starlight Grey, and Cara and the Wizard, I can’t help feeling that the books were coaxed into life by the sympathetic listening of my excellent editor, Jessica St Jean. After that stage, the stories most definitely sprang into gorgeous vibrant colourful life through the imagination of the illustrator, Valeria Docampo – that deserves a blog post in itself, coming soon!
And there were probably dozens of other people involved in commissioning, designing, producing, selling and marketing the books. At Barefoot Books, every step on the path to publication was taken with such thoughtful care and attention that I believe that it shows in the beautiful finished product. So many people are responsible for bringing a story to life!
However, it’s only now that I find myself agreeing wholeheartedly with JK Rowling – almost three years since these books were first thought of – now that I’m busy taking the stories into schools and workshops and storytime readings.
My little books are brought to full and lovely life when I’m reading them to a class of children. Maybe I’m lucky with the schools I’ve been to, or maybe this age group is just wonderfully ripe for stories, but every time I’ve read the books, something magical and unexpected happens.
Slowly at first, that wide-eyed story trance falls on the group. Any parent will know the look – the child is present and listening, but at the same time lost in the busyness of imagining what they hear. The real magic is happening inside their heads, and it’s extraordinary to watch.
And you know what? I’m absolutely not taking the credit here! It’s all about the power of stories and the thirst that children have for them. It’s all about the limitlessness of a child’s imagination.
I’m just delighted that these first books of mine have life because someone wants to listen.
Photos by Sarah Mason Photography